In learning of the Team USA’s position in the so-called “Group of Death,” Las Vegas oddsmakers made it clear the Americans were a long shot to win the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Team USA Coach Jürgen Klinsmann and his squad faced 100-1 odds of going all the way, according to most Vegas sportsbooks, but the Americans were also picked as the team most likely to perish in the group that included Germany, Portugal, and Ghana.
It was a tough spot for the U.S. squad to make its move on the world football stage, but the men’s team managed to put up four points and advance following a 1-0 loss to Germany. Against those steep odds, here are five things that allowed the American team to survive the Group of Death and make it to the knockout rounds.
1. Germany’s blowout of Portugal.
To borrow a phrase from Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, Germany “got nasty” with Portugal in the opening match. By the time it was over, the Germans had dispatched their European rivals 4-0. Thomas Müller had a hat trick for “Die Mannschaft,” the team with a nickname that sounds as formidable as it appeared against the Portuguese.
Germany had a quick response for everything Portugal attempted in this match and, by the time it was over, the Group of Death had its first massacre. Thankfully for Team USA, one of its group rivals dug an early hole from which it would never emerge.
2. The U.S.A. maximized its chances vs. Ghana.
Ghana must have felt snakebitten on many levels after its opening match loss to the U.S. squad. Clint Dempsey ambushed Ghana’s defense in the first minute for one of the fastest goals in World Cup history. Then the American squad lost Jozy Altidore, the team’s best offensive player, and Ghana mounted a series of attacks. In what was a valiant effort by the American team, Klinsmann’s crew managed to hold Ghana to a single goal.
The defense proved decisive when the American team converted one of its few scoring chances later in the match. Substitute John Brooks nailed a header to score in the eighty-sixth minute, making him the first U.S. sub to notch a goal in the World Cup. Two goals on two solid chances plus exhaustive defense would not be an ideal formula to win a World Cup match, but the U.S. made the most of its opportunities against Ghana.
3.The draw between Germany and Ghana.
Ghana came out with guns blazing against Germany in what for many fans has been the most competitive match so far in the 2014 World Cup. The prolific Asamoah Gyan scored in minute 63 for Ghana, putting his team up 2-1 after a blistering offensive attack. Germany responded as it has so often in the past. Veteran striker Miroslav Klose entered and promptly finished off a teammate’s header to score in his first minute on the field, tying the score where the match ended (2-2).
Klose’s goal was historic. It tied the German striker for Brazil’s Ronaldo on the all-time World Cup goal scorer’s list (15). For the United States, it meant Ghana did not pick up three points, keeping the Group of Death on manageable terms.
4. Inspired U.S.A. play versus Portugal.
Whether it was the absence of Pepe, the injury to Fabio Coentrão, or the coalescence of the U.S.A. offense, fans saw a much more aggressive approach from the Americans in the second match against Portugal. The team shrugged off an early miscue that led to a Portugal goal to tie the game 1-1 on a sensational goal by Jermaine Jones, a crackling long-range bender that left Portugal’s goalkeeper stunned in the contest’s sixty-fourth minute.
Clint Dempsey followed with a goal off his chest in the eighty-first minute, putting the U.S. team up 2-1 with a clear path to the round of 16. It wasn’t until extra time — in fact, the final chance for Portugal — that a spectacular cross by Cristiano Ronaldo and Silvestre Varela header tied the game at 2-2. The U.S. was stunned by a goal that landed in the net at the 94:33 mark, but the team’s inspired play on offense gave it the cushion necessary to leave the match with one point, giving them four in two games.
5. Portugal’s rebound against Ghana.
National and personal pride go on the line in every World Cup match, regardless of the group implications. Ghana and Portugal both had a chance to advance in their final match, but Ghana’s route to the knockout stages was simpler. By beating Portugal by a 2-1 score and Germany topping the U.S., Ghana would punch its ticket to the round of 16.
Asamoah Gyan seemed intent on that outcome, scoring at the fifty-seventh minute to tie the score 1-1. With the goal, his second of 2014 and sixth all-time in World Cup play, Gyan tied the record for most goals by an African player. Cristiano Ronaldo made sure the tie did not stand. In minute 81, Ronaldo smashed a ball into the corner of the net after Ghana’s goalkeeper made a mistake by deflecting a shot into the penalty zone.
Apparently not impressed with his feat, the world player of the year calmly jogged back to his team’s side without celebrating the goal. Ronaldo knew it was unlikely his team would survive the group at that point. Fortunately for Team USA, it delivered them to the knockout stages. Whatever happens from this point, the U.S. men’s national team has already exceeded expectations at the 2014 World Cup.